Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz
Finales are not easy. They come with the burden of closing things off in style but also not screwing it up. Even something as consistent a series as Breaking Bad played it decidedly safe, trading a fan pleasing climax that went against the grain of the show. (The Dark Knight Rises tried to do too much and imploded). All through, the James Bond movies starring Daniel Craig have treaded the thin line between being fallible and being Bond—there is no image more telling of this update than in the first instalment, Casino Royale (2006), when he is stripped naked and tied to a chair, then have his sack of balls hit by a sublime knot of rope made by the villain played by Mads Mikkelsen; as there is no scene more classic Bond—and more erotic—than his close shave with Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) in Skyfall (2012), where he declares his preference for at least a few things old-fashioned; and nothing defined this no-nonsense middle ground better than when, asked if he likes his martini shaken or stirred, Bond said, in Casino, 'Do I look like I give a damn?'
The question No Time to Die, Craig's swan-song, confronts us with is how do we like our Bond? We like him vulnerable alright, but to what degree? Is Bond acceptable as a softie? Or are we asking the wrong questions? You get the feeling that this is perhaps where Craig's Bond was always heading and No Time to Die merely brings it to its logical conclusion — but what do I care about logic, that too in a Bond movie?
Cary Fukunaga's film (co-written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, among others) opens with echoes of two of the strongest Bond films. As in Skyfall, we are back on an ice pond that might crack open anytime, this time with a little girl (the child version of Madeleine Swann, the Lea Seydoux character), and as in Casino Royale, we are back in Italy, where Bond's first love, Vespa played by Eva Green, had died, an event that still haunts him—events connected by ice, water and women. But the plot heavily hinges on the previous instalment and one of the weakest films of the franchise, Spectre. Later, we even get a private island like that of Scaramanga's in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), "a poison garden" inherited by Rami Malek's Lyutsifer Safin from his father, who's death in the hands of Swann's father, an assassin for the Spectre network, he is out to avenge.
The character makes an entry in the first scene like a Bogeyman but even he has a moral code—even though he is not half as entertaining as Javier Bardem in Skyfall, a comparison begging to be made not just because Malek is the latest in the line of exotic-accented Bond villains with a disfigured face, but also because of the visual similarity of his face-off scene in his den with Bond. You get the feeling that Fukunaga and the writers do all the 'right' things but they don't always fly on screen. And those that do, like the new 007 appointed by the MI6—before Bond is brought out of semi-retirement—played sexily by Lashana Lynch, who has a great repartee going on with him in the film's Jamaica portions, don't go anywhere. Lynch's casting as a 007 teases the speculation about the next Bond being black, or a woman, or both, or perhaps queer. What now? Craig was the man for our times—icy but not insensitive—and an agent of change in a post 9/11 world. But that time is over. Which is perhaps why the transgressions of No Time To Die don't feel transgressive enough, which it tries to balance with the comfort of familiarity. It does end well, though, lump in your throat guaranteed.